After the deaths of more than 740,000 Americans, you might think the receding of a deadly pandemic would be unalloyed good news for the country.
But apparently not for the Democrats.
That’s not my analysis, it’s the takeaway by Politico, which says “the political fallout may be severe, especially for Democrats.”
“It takes away a great issue,” Ben Tribbett, a Democratic strategist in Virginia, is quoted as saying.
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Really? It would be better for the Democrats if the coronavirus continued to ravage the country, driving up deaths and hospitalizations, so they don’t lose a political weapon? That sounds incredibly heartless.
Now I’ll give Tribbett the benefit of the doubt and assume he was responding to a reporter’s question and doesn’t want more casualties just to boost his party. But let’s look at the political landscape.
The pandemic isn’t exactly over, with more than 70,000 new daily cases and about 1,400 deaths. But the case figures are less than half than the early August peak.
While there could be an uptick as colder weather forces more people inside, the Washington Post says the pandemic “appears to be winding down in the United States in a thousand subtle ways, but without any singular milestone, or a cymbal-crashing announcement of freedom from the virus.”
As one expert put it, the virus just fades into the background, like the flu.
Now there’s no question that the pandemic was Joe Biden’s principal issue in the campaign, and his assault on Donald Trump’s handling of the virus was crucial to his winning the White House.
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And while Trump launched Operation Warp Speed, it was Biden who rolled it out–and reaped the political benefits as a vast swath of the country got the shots. That is, until 80 million Americans refused to be vaccinated, the president imposed mandates and the Delta variant surged. Those developments, along with the Afghanistan debacle and border crisis, fueled Biden’s slide in the polls.
With more media attention to inflation, supply shortages, Democratic infighting, and culture-war battles–as exemplified by the Toni Morrison book flap in the Virginia governor’s race–virus politics no longer dominates the news.
“As interest in Covid fades,” says Politico, “Democrats may lose one of their most compelling campaign planks a little more than a year before a critical midterm election in which the party is already facing headwinds.”
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There’s a certain irony here. If the virus keeps receding, Biden would deserve some of the credit. He’s taken plenty of heat for mandating vaccines and encouraging states and businesses to do the same, but the gradual rise in the vax rate–with some facing the loss of their jobs–has surely contributed to slowing the spread.
And yet elections are always about the future. The Brits fired Winston Churchill after World War II, and Americans fired George H.W. Bush after the Gulf War. Even if Biden is seen as the man who vanquished Covid-19, that means Americans will be worrying about other things in ’22–and that means a changed political landscape.